Last fall there was a rumor going around that John Cox was entering the electronics age and souping up his boat with sonar gear. Just to clear the air, the Florida pro reports that though he did flirt with the notion of incorporating an offshore strategy centered on depth finders into his act, he eventually abandoned the idea.
It’s not that Cox doesn’t find modern electronics helpful for navigating around a lake, returning to out-of-the-way spots where he caught fish before and that sort of thing. It’s just that he can’t find much wrong with his program that eschews depth finders and instead depends on his beating the banks. It’s hard to argue with him, especially considering that Cox came within 15 measly points of winning the Walmart FLW Tour Angler of the Year title in 2015.
“I’ll admit that I’ve thought about improving my offshore game, but then I decided that I’m going to keep doing the things that have been working for me,” says the 30-year-old Florida pro. “I’ve got ledge waypoints for, like, Kentucky Lake and Beaver, and I’ll check them when we go there – at least in practice. But it’s not like I’m going to stake everything on doing something I don’t have a lot of confidence in. I know there’ll be tournaments where it will cost me, but I’m determined to get paid fishing something on the bank every time.”
The way Cox sees it, the reason he doesn’t always make a check is not because he’s making a mistake by staying shallow, but rather because of poor lure choices, bad decisions, losing focus or not following his instincts. For instance, consider how the wheels on his AOY bid came off in the last qualifying tournament of the campaign on the Potomac River. Cox even has it pinpointed to one cast.
“I was catching fish on a ChatterBait, but when the tide went out where I was fishing, I kept throwing it even though the grass was so thick that it couldn’t get down where the fish were. I got lazy, though, and wouldn’t switch to a swim jig. My co-angler picked up a swim jig rod, made a cast and caught a 3 1/2-pounder. That fish would have put me over the top in the AOY – it still bugs me. Sometimes one little mistake can really cost you.”
Another annoyance for Cox has been his inconsistency. In the five years he’s fished the Tour, it’s been a roller-coaster ride: 41st in his rookie season, 81st in 2012, 144th in 2013, 67th the following year and second in 2016. He thinks that his approach to fishing is partially to blame. In years past, Cox has swung for the fences instead of just trying to earn a check, but he’s ready to swap his old motto, “Go for Broke,” to a more practical one: “Make the Cut.”
That’s not to say Cox doesn’t target the biggest bass he can, but going forward he doesn’t plan to waste time trying to catch fish that aren’t likely to cooperate with the way he fishes.
“It would be great to catch a huge bag every day, but that doesn’t happen most of the time,” he observes. “So in any given tournament, maybe I’m going to go after some big ones until 10 or 11 o’clock on the first day, but if that doesn’t work maybe I’ll go to high-percentage areas where I think I can catch five keepers. And maybe there might also be a good fish or two there. In the past I’ve burned a lot of time trying to catch bigger fish in tournaments where it turns out you’re just lucky to get five bites at all. I’m not going to do that anymore. I’m going for a limit each day, the best limit I can catch, and hope that it’s good enough to get me to the next day.”
The first Tour event at Lake Okeechobee should reveal if his amended fishing approach is working. Two years ago, when the opener was staged there, the shallow-water specialist finished a miserable 175th out of 178 anglers in what might have been considered a potential pushover for him. Cox has fished the Big O dozens of times, so it wasn’t his unfamiliarity with the lake that caused him to fail miserably. The reason he did so badly then, he confesses, is because he went for the gold without having any reasonable expectation that the bass he needed were in his familiar fishing haunts.
“You can have the best baits, the best of everything, but it really comes down to what’s inside your head,” Cox says, reflectively. “One of my problems is being too stubborn, but I’m really working to change that.”
Another thing that the Florida pro is changing is his lure collection. Cox says he recently spent six hours culling baits from his new boat’s storage bins. He settled on about 15 different soft plastics in light and dark colors for different water conditions. He also kept several jigs of various styles and weights, a box of ChatterBaits and a selection of crankbaits that cover the water from shallow to about 8 feet deep.
“I pretty much simplified everything. I kept what I know I’m going to throw in every tournament. I’m not getting wrapped up in wondering if I should be throwing the purple worm with the gold glitter or the gold worm with the purple glitter,” says Cox. “If you have certain baits that you’ve caught fish on lots of times, there’s no reason to get outside your comfort zone too much. It’s like Denny Brauer flipping a jig. It works – why complicate things?”
Of course, flipping a jig doesn’t always win tournaments, nor does fishing shallow. Still, Cox is satisfied that the Tour stops and their timing will play to his strengths. To some extent, they all set up as spawn or postspawn scenarios, and hungry bass will be roaming the shallows looking for forage. Cox will be there, too, looking for them.
In that respect, the new John Cox isn’t so different from the old one.